Do you keep your apps up to date? Maybe you have your phone configured to update apps automatically. Or maybe you update your apps manually. Either way, you’ve probably noticed an increase in vague app release notes.

Those users and organizations that manually update apps typically rely on release notes to determine what functionality is being delivered with each update.  Release notes may indicate the presence of a new feature or the addition of a security patch; release notes may also show when certain functionality is being deprecated and removed from the app.
If you start to pay more attention to each new app update, you might notice that app developers have become a bit lax with their release notes. A quick scroll through pending updates on your smartphone will probably show that around a third of your apps have release notes that give away little more detail than “bug fixes and improvements” or “we make improvements every two weeks…”.
Why does this matter? This information in each new version release tells us whether or not an update is important or urgent. Especially relevant when you are in the IT department managing a fleet of hundreds of corporate devices that carry sensitive corporate data.
But are they worth the time spent writing them? Let’s explore the issue.

Vague app release notes

Important things hidden in the vague app release notes

Most of today’s vague app release notes are a little too general for people to be able to make informed decisions about whether or not to update their apps. Perhaps this is a result of more end users choosing to auto-update their apps.  Or perhaps the developers just got lazy.
These new versions might include important security patches or updates to the web APIs that retrieve online information to display in the app, or they might introduce certificate pinning to protect from man-in-the-middle attacks over Wi-Fi.
This is where more details would come in handy – if you noticed the release notes said important “security patches” for example, then instigating an immediate update would be a no-brainer.
On the other hand, updates can sometimes introduce bugs that weren’t there before in the previous version. For this reason, some individuals or businesses disable automatic updates and instead wait for bug regression testing. Especially useful because – like an Operating System – once you update you can’t go back; you’re stuck with that new bug or undesirable version until the next one is released.
Waiting for regression testing is obviously only recommended if release notes don’t specify any important security updates. But without detailed release notes, there is no way to know if it’s safe to hold off an app update.
vague app release notes

Why are developers skimming over the detail?

Let’s look at this now from the developer’s perspective. They must have good reasons for keeping information thin in their vague app release notes. Here are a few of the excuses we’ve heard:

Obfuscate security patches

An important security patch may suggest that there was a vulnerability in the previous version and draw attention to a problem that may have gone unnoticed by users and caused them no harm.

Hide competitive improvements

If a new feature is laid out in full detail a competitor might follow suit, grabbing on to those new feature ideas and replicating them.


Having a regular release cycle gives developers an excuse from adding the specific reasons for the update in their release notes. Common release cycles are every two weeks.

Speed up approvals

Developers may even schedule new releases on a schedule to optimize the app store’s approval process.

Make room for marketing spin

Companies may just want to use this window of opportunity to throw some marketing spin at users from a different angle. Every time an app is updated, that company’s brand is front and center in the app store.

Shift in user behavior

Maybe people just aren’t reading them anymore because devices can be configured to automatically install updates, or maybe they have become so boring that users don’t look at them.

Optimize time

Writing release notes can be one of the more tedious tasks developers face. It might be seen as a low-value investment of time and effort by the company, especially if updates are a collection of tiny tweaks that can’t be explained without highly technical language.
Vague app release notes

Are operating systems the same?

No. Operating Systems are a shining example of developers providing details of why the update has been released. Every time a new OS version is released, there are notes detailing exactly what features have been added and security patches reference and address specific CVEs (meaning, the vulnerability goes away).
Keeping operating systems up to date is arguably more important than keeping apps up to date as the vulnerabilities are much larger targets and have far more impact than a single app. But there are still some reasons why keeping apps (as well as your operating system) up to date is important. So why don’t app stores enforce it?

The other argument for better release notes

While they may be time-consuming and frequently overlooked, release notes are important for security incident communication but also an opportunity to engage end users. It’s also a chance to let users know their feedback has been heard, give the brand a voice and make technical details more digestible and fun. Some apps really embrace release notes adding some creative flair. Here are some of our favorite releases over the past month that are both informative and creative.
Vague app release notes

Which apps are releasing the most versions?

We looked at our global network of enterprise mobile devices to find out: of the apps running on employee devices, how many different versions of these apps have there been in recent years? It’s apparent that some apps have more updates than others. Here is the list of apps on Android and iOS with the most updates.

Candy Crush

And not surprisingly, some of the apps at the top of the list have those vague app release notes.
Vague app release notes
So what do you think? Should more detailed release notes be enforced or are you ok with vague app release notes?
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